Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Passport, please.

South Korea has opened immigration checkpoints at the DMZ, the four-kilometer-wide swath of land which has sealed it off from North Korea for more than half a century.

The facilities will ease the journey of some 400 of South Koreans who commute each day to the Kaesong Industrial Zone just inside North Korea.

The Roh government has said the two sides were in the process of becoming a unified community. The new immigration facilities will help speed up the process and give some of the atmosphere of a normal border crossing.

The South's unification minister said growing contacts would show the Koreans could build peace and prosperity on their own.

It's important to note, however, that contact is still carefully controlled by North Korean officials anxious to restrict outside influences. ROK citizens are confined to a fenced-off industrial zone on the outskirts of the city of Kaesong just a few kilometers north of the border. There are about six thousand North Koreans currently employed at South-owned factories, which are attracted by a cheap, Korean-speaking, disciplined (!) labor force.

South Korean workers travel in convoy each day following a military vehicle which is replaced by a North Korean jeep midway through the buffer zone. There are plans to employ more than half a million North Koreans within six years, but officials say success will depend on a diplomatic breakthrough and more support from the United States.

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